Friday, March 11, 2016

Father awarded $230,000 in divorce case

In Fulton County, the parties amassed nearly 1 million in legal fees arguing over custody of their child.  Our unique flat fees protect you from such exorbitant fees.

Full case below:

Hoard v. Beveridge, S15A1685
Supreme Court of Georgia, Civil Case (3/7/2016, 3/11/2016)
ATTORNEYS FEES: Expenses of Litigation
Text: Thompson, Hugh P., Chief Justice
This appeal involves a challenge to a trial court's award to one party in a divorce action of attorney fees under OCGA § 9-15-14 and OCGA § 19-6-2. Because we conclude the trial court made sufficient findings to sustain the full amount of the fee award under OCGA § 19-6-2 (a), we affirm.
In 2009, Brett Beveridge filed an action for divorce against his wife, Vivian Hoard. One child was born of the marriage, and the primary issue in the case involved custody of the parties' minor child. With the parties' consent, therefore, the trial court appointed as custody evaluator, Dr. Carol Webb, who concluded both parties were fit and loving parents and recommended a joint custodial arrangement. After a hearing, the trial court in April 2011entered a temporary order granting the parties joint legal and physical custody with equal parenting time. In the meantime, Hoard learned that in 2006, Dr. Webb asked opposing counsel's husband, then state representative Edward Lindsey, for a letter of recommendation for re-appointment by the governor of Georgia to a professional board. Believing that Dr. Webb's request created a conflict of interest, Hoard throughout much of the remainder of the divorce proceedings filed numerous motions seeking to disqualify Dr. Webb, as well as motions to set aside, for new trial, for mistrial, and to amend, reopen and rehear her motions to disqualify, each of which was related to Hoard's efforts to disqualify Dr. Webb and was denied by the trial court.1
In October 2012, following a ten day trial, the trial court issued a final order granting the parties joint legal and physical custody with equal parenting time. The order specifically stated that the trial court did not rely on Dr. Webb's report in making its custody determination but noted that the report was not inconsistent with the other evidence presented by the parties. Both Hoard and Beveridge filed cross-motions for attorney fees and expenses seeking, respectively, fees and expenses of $431,411.25 and $400,974.90. In an October 2014 order, the trial court denied Hoard's fee motion and granted Beveridge's motion, awarding him $232,114 in fees and expenses, the exact amount of all costs he claimed to have incurred from the date of the temporary hearing and after the trial court's denial of Hoard's first motion to disqualify Dr. Webb. Seeking leave to challenge the trial court's fee award, Hoard subsequently filed an application for discretionary appeal which this Court granted pursuant to Rule 34 (4).
1. The trial court made its fee award, without allocation, under both OCGA § 19-6-2 and OCGA § 9-15-14, based on its conclusion that Hoard's numerous attempts to disqualify and discredit Dr. Webb unnecessarily expanded the litigation and that although "neither party [could] afford the extensive litigation and the extensive fees they incurred," Hoard had a "superior ability to pay." Hoard contends the trial court erred by failing to identify which portion of the fees was awarded pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 and which portion was awarded pursuant to OCGA § 19-6-2 (a). She further argues that without such apportionment, the award must be reversed because the trial court's findings are not sufficient to independently sustain the full award under either statute. See Park Ridge Condo Ass'n v. Callais, 290 Ga. App. 875, 878 (660 SE2d 736) (2008) (holding that trial court abused its discretion by failing to specify in its award of attorney fees and expenses which fees and expenses fell within the ambit of the applicable fee statute). Compare Taylor v. Taylor, 293 Ga. 615, 618-619 (4) (748 SE2d 873) (2013) (upholding attorney fee award that failed to specify which portion of the award was made pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 (b) and OCGA § 19-9-3 (6) because an award of the full amount would have been authorized under either statute).
We begin our analysis with OCGA § 9-15-14 (b), a statute which authorizes a trial court to award reasonable attorney fees upon a finding that an action or any part thereof "lacked substantial justification or that the action . . . was interposed for delay or harassment, or if it finds that an attorney or party unnecessarily expanded the proceeding by other improper conduct." Here, the trial court concluded that Hoard's numerous attempts to disqualify Dr. Webb based on her request for a letter of recommendation unnecessarily expanded the litigation, thus authorizing under § 9-15-14 (b) an award to Beveridge in an amount limited to the fees and expenses he incurred in defending against Hoard's sanctionable conduct. See Hardman v. Hardman, 295 Ga. 732, 740 (763 SE2d 861) (2014) (stating that award of attorney fees under OCGA § 9 15 14 might have been appropriate in contempt action if limited to fees party incurred in defending against issue improperly raised in motion for contempt); LabMD, Inc. v. Savera, 331 Ga. App. 463, 467 (2) (a) (771 SE2d 148) (2015) (trial court must limit attorney fees awarded pursuant to OCGA § 9 15 14 (b) to those incurred because of the sanctionable conduct); Trotter v. Summerour, 273 Ga. App. 263, 267 (2) (614 SE2d 887) (2005) (a trial court is required to exclude from fee award made pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 any fees "unrelated to defending against the claims deemed frivolous"). The trial court's order, however, makes no specific allocation of fees awarded pursuant to OCGA § 9-15-14 (b) and awards Beveridge $232,114 in fees and expenses, the same amount he claimed to have incurred from the date of the temporary hearing related to all aspects of the litigation. In fact, Beveridge's own evidence does not support the conclusion that the full amount of the court's fee award is sustainable under OCGA § 9-15-14 (b) inasmuch as it shows that his costs related to Hoard's sanctionable conduct did not exceed $65,000. We agree then with Hoard's argument that the trial court's full award cannot be upheld under this section of the Georgia Code.
2. If OCGA § 9-15-14 was the only basis stated for the fee award, we might at this juncture simply vacate the award and remand to the trial court. See Hardman, 295 Ga. at 740. Vacation and remand are unwarranted in this case, however, because the full amount of the trial court's award can be independently sustained under OCGA § 19-6-2 (a). See Taylor, 293 Ga. at 618-619. That section "authorizes a trial court in a divorce action to exercise its sound discretion and, after considering the financial circumstances of the parties, to award attorney fees as necessary to ensure the effective representation of both parties."Simmons v. Simmons, 288 Ga. 670, 673 (706 SE2d 456) (2011). A trial court's decision "[w]hether to award attorney fees . . . pursuant to OCGA § 19 6 2 is a matter within the discretion of the trial court, and the exercise of that discretion will not be reversed unless manifestly or flagrantly abused." Mongerson v. Mongerson, 285 Ga. 554, 558 559 (678 SE2d 891) (2009), overruled on other grounds, Simmons, 288 Ga. at 672, n.4.
The record in this case shows that evidence was presented at the motions hearing regarding the parties' financial circumstances, including evidence of their income, their respective equity interests in real property, and Beveridge's obligation under the final decree to pay for the cost of their child's private school education.2 The trial court also had before it evidence that Hoard during the divorce proceedings liquidated marital assets to pay for a portion of her attorney fees while Beveridge used his own non-marital assets and obtained a loan against his 401 (k) to pay for a portion of his fees.3 The record and fee hearing transcript thus show that the trial court carefully considered the parties' relative financial positions, their obligations under the final decree, and the substantial costs incurred by both parties, and awarded Beveridge substantially less than the total amount of fees he claimed to have incurred in the litigation. Based on this record, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in making its award which ensured effective representation of both spouses.4 See Simmons, 288 Ga. at 673-674 (finding no abuse of discretion where record showed trial court considered the parties' relative financial positions and granted fees to wife because she would be primary physical custodian); Patel v. Patel, 285 Ga. 391, 393 (4) (677 SE2d 114) (2009) (finding no abuse of discretion in trial court's decision to deny wife's claim for attorney fees under OCGA § 19-6-2 where the trial court found both parties used marital property to pay their attorney fees); Johnson v. Johnson, 284 Ga. 366, 368 (3) (667 SE2d 350) (2008) (affirming award of attorney fees under OCGA § 19-6-2 based on trial court's "broad discretion to set the amount and terms of payment for any award of attorneys' fees."); Brady v. Brady, 228 Ga. 617 (1) (187 SE2d 258) (1972) (discretion of trial court as to amount of fees awarded under OCGA § 19-6-2 will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion). Accordingly, the trial court's full fee award can be sustained under OCGA § 19-6-2 and we will not disturb this award on appeal. See Taylor, 293 Ga. at 618-619 (4).
We find no merit in Hoard's argument that the trial court's award under OCGA § 19-6-2 was punitive or improperly predicated on a finding that she engaged in misconduct. Although the trial court discusses in its fee order the procedural history of the parties' litigation and clearly concludes that Hoard's "numerous attempts to disqualify and discredit the custody evaluator unnecessarily expanded th[e] litigation," nothing in the language of the order suggests these factors played any part in its decision to award fees to Beveridge pursuant to OCGA § 19-6-2. Compare Weaver v. Weaver, 263 Ga. 56 (428 SE2d 79) (1993) (reversing fee award under OCGA § 19-6-2 where decision to award fees to one party was based on other party's refusal to settle dispute). In fact, the trial court's discussion of its fee award as it explicitly relates to OCGA § 19-6-2 makes no reference to Hoard's conduct but properly focuses on the parties' financial circumstances and ability to afford the litigation.
Judgment affirmed. All the Justices concur.
1Dr. Webb testified that she did not recall asking for the letter of recommendation until she was asked about it by Hoard's counsel at her deposition and that she did not know whether Mr. Lindsey actually wrote a letter until Hoard filed her first motion to disqualify, after the custody evaluation had been completed.
2The trial court found that Beveridge earned approximately $19,000.00 a month and Hoard earned approximately $20,000.00 per month. With regard to Hoard's "superior ability to pay," the trial court noted, in addition to the slight difference in income, that Beveridge was responsible under the final decree to pay $2,000.00 per month toward the cost of the child's private school education and the fact Hoard had $224,300.00 in equity in her residence while Beveridge, who had moved out of the marital home, had only $29,000.00 in equity in his residence.
3Contrary to Hoard's argument, the fact that Beveridge was able to pay for a portion of his fee obligation during the course of this lengthy and contentious divorce proceeding did not deprive the trial court of its statutory authority to award fees under OCGA § 19-6-2.
4We find no merit in Hoard's argument that the trial court abused its discretion by relying on financial information presented during the October 2012 final hearing. Hoard failed to respond to Beveridge's notice to produce more current financial information and failed to produce at the fee hearing evidence of her then-current financial status, despite being directed by the trial court's rule nisi to do so, leaving the trial court no choice but to rule on the fee motions based on the evidence previously presented. Moreover, unlike in Thedieck v. Thedieck, 220 Ga. App. 764, 768 (470 SE2d 265) (1996), there was not in this case even the suggestion of a substantial change in the parties' financial circumstances.
Trial Judge: Bensonetta Tipton Lane, Fulton Superior Court.
Attorneys: Michael J. Bowers and Joshua M. Moore (Balch & Bingham LLP), Atlanta, for appellant. Elizabeth G. Lindsey (Davis, Matthews & Quigley PC), Atlanta, for appellee.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Regina Edwards selected again to SuperLawyers Rising Stars for 2016.

Edwards and Associates is pleased to announce that managing partner Regina I. Edwards has again been elected to the 2016 Georgia Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the area of family law.

While up to five percent of the lawyers in Georgia are named to Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Rising Stars list.

Ms. Edwards received her law degree from Tulane School of Law, and her undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University. She is a member of the Georgia Bar, American Bar Association, Family Law Sections of the Gwinnett, Forsyth and Atlanta Bar Associations. 

For more information about the firm’s services and philosophy, please visit our site at www.GeorgiaFathersRights.com.


Friday, April 17, 2015


Regina Edwards selected again to SuperLawyers Rising Stars for 2015.

Edwards & Associates is pleased to announce that managing partner Regina I. Edwards has again been elected to the 2015 Georgia Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the area of family law.

While up to five percent of the lawyers in Georgia are named to Super Lawyers, no more than 2.5 percent are named to the Rising Stars list.

Ms. Edwards received her law degree from Tulane School of Law, and her undergraduate degree from North Carolina Central University. She is a member of the Georgia Bar, American Bar Association, Family Law Sections of the Gwinnett, Forsyth and Atlanta Bar Associations. 

For more information about the firm’s services and philosophy, please visit our site at www.GeorgiaFathersRights.com.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Parenting During the Holidays

Parenting During the Holidays

The holidays can be challenging for even the most organized and simple families.  The addition of new families and households can be even more overwhelming.  Add in a visit with your ex and your holidays might have gone from “the most wonderful time of the year” to the most horrible time of the year.  Co-parenting during the holidays can be difficult and full of obstacles, but it can be done with minimal controversy.  Whether the problem is seeing your ex in an effort to help the child or children have a great holiday or vying for time with your child at such a family-oriented time, a family split up can make for a difficult holiday season.

There are, however, some ways that you and your co-parent can work together to make the season less miserable and more celebratory for your child or children.  The following tips, along with some from this Huffington Post article and co-parenting post, could help you navigate this time.

1.      Make a Plan.  The plan should include all aspects of the holidays, including financial obligations.  The holidays can mean more childcare costs due to the children being out of school.  Be sure to communicate with your co-parent about how you might organize your schedules to minimize costs and split them where necessary.  Also, be sure to communicate to your child or children where everyone is going to be at the holidays so they are not taken aback by missing a time with one parent or one family.

2.      Celebrate with your co-parent.  While this may seem difficult or entirely out of the question, it is an option to consider.  If you and your co-parent can get along for long enough to enjoy some holiday time, it might be beneficial for your child.  Try opening gifts together or attending the school holiday program together.

3.      Be aware that your child or children can read emotions and tones in your voice.  You may think that you are being sneaky by using sarcasm and shooting your ex a “look that could kill” when you think your child is not looking, but the truth is that children are very perceptive.  They are likely to pick up on your tones and emotions.  If they sense anger or sadness, they are likely to start feeling guilty and those feelings might ruin the holiday season for them.

4.      Schedule some down time.  The holidays can be hectic and exhausting for even the most organized and energetic adult.  A child being shuffled between families is likely to feel the stress more than your average person.  It is important that you schedule some alone time for you child with some activities that might help them unwind and calm down.

If you or someone you know is dealing with a divorce or custody issues this holiday season, contact our office to learn how we may be able to help you and your family.  Our attorneys are experienced in family law and will work to find the best outcome for everyone.  Contact our office for more information. 



Sunday, November 23, 2014

Custodial Parents Moving Away

Custodial Parents Moving Away

After a divorce or a custody battle, it is not uncommon for one of the ex-spouses to choose to move away from the place where the couple made their home.  Whether the reason is to be closer to family or to start a new life, such a move can greatly affect the other person.  This is especially true where one of the parties has custody of a child or children.  Georgia law used to presume that a custodial parent was allowed to relocate, but a 2003 case overruled that presumption.

The Case
 In 2003, the Georgia Supreme Court in Bodne v. Bodne decided that courts will no longer presume that a custodial parent is allowed to relocate.  The Supreme Court stated that instead of presuming the parent is allowed to move, the courts will look at each case individually and will determine what is in the best interest of the child. The Supreme Court essentially decided that regardless of the parents’ custodial situation, the most important thing is the best interest of the child.  Thus, there will be no presumption of authorization.

What Does it Mean for Custodial Parents?
 A custodial parent who tries to relocate must give notice of the move to the non custodial parent.  If that happens, the other parent may file an objection to this request.  In such a case, it is important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side.  In some cases, if one of the parents chooses to relocate, a judge will rework the custody arrangement.  In extreme cases, a judge may even change who has primary custody.  In making this decision, the court will weigh the two competing sides.  First, the judge will consider the relocating parent’s reasons for moving.  Then, the judge will consider the best interests of the child.  The judge will decide whether the move is in the best interest of the child.  If the move is not in the best interest of the child, the judge may decide that the other parent should have primary custody.
 Does the Child Have a Say?
 The Georgia code provides specific instructions for whether a judge should consider the interests of a child.  Section 19-9-3 (a)(5) outlines whether to take the child’s preference into consideration.  The law provides that once a child has reached the age of 14, the child will have a right to choose the parent with which he or she wants to live.  A judge is not necessarily forced to agree with the child as to what the best interests of the child are, however, it very well may be a determining factor in the judge’s decision.  The preference of a child between the ages of 11 and 14 will be taken into consideration, but is less controlling than that of the older child.

What Should You Do?
 If you or someone you know has a child whose custodial parent wants to relocate with the child, or if you or someone you know is a parent who wants to relocate with a child, finding an experienced attorney can make all the difference in your case.  The attorneys at Edwards & Associates may be able to help you in your case.



Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Does a Paternity Determination Mean?

What Does a Paternity Determination Mean?

Determining paternity means determining the identify of the biological father of a specific child for purposes of the law.  It is a process that decides who fathered the child and should therefore be financially responsible and gain rights to access the child and decisions regarding the child.  However, the legal significance is very important and is often misunderstood.  The emotional and personal significance can also be a huge part of a father’s life and will likely determine a very large part of the child’s future, making the step of establishing paternity a very important one. 

Voluntary or Not?

A potential father might choose to have the paternity of a child determined, or the court may order it, despite resistance.  There are multiple ways to determine paternity.  One way to determine paternity is by marriage.  A child born within the confines of a marriage is assumed to be fathered by the husband.  Similarly, if a child is born and the parents later marry, the child is presumed to be the child of the husband if the couple signs legitimacy papers or the father puts his name on the child’s birth certificate.  Additionally, a court order such as a divorce decree, separation agreement, or other order might specify the father as the parent of the child, establishing paternity.

If the purported child denies paternity, the mother of the child can file a paternity suit.  At that point, the court will likely demand the purported child undergo genetic testing using DNA to determine the paternity.  In the case of a court-required paternity determination, it is important that both parties are aware of their respective rights and obligations, a task a family law attorney can make much easier to handle. 

What does it Mean?

Once paternity has been established, by any of the methods above, there will be legal implications for both the parents and the child.  This may very well mean that the father will then be required to pay child support, money sent to the providing parent to help support the child financially.  In addition, the father may be allowed visitation and or partial custody.  The father may also gain rights to be a part of important decisions regarding the child’s life.  The child can now inherit from and through the father and might also gain immediate financial support.  All of these legal implications will be determined by the court or by agreement of the parties.  Either way, an experienced family law attorney could be key to the process and gaining all of the privileges and responsibilities that come with being declared the parent of a child. 

What does this Mean for You?

If you or someone you know is dealing with paternity issues, the first crucial step is to hire a good family law attorney.  The attorneys at Edwards & Associates are highly experienced on the issue of father’s rights and we may be able to help you with your paternity or father’s rights issues.  Contact us to find out more or visit our website for more information on our practice and how we may be able to help you.  

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Divorce is increasing, not decreasing, says new study

Divorce is increasing, not decreasing, says new study

A new study sheds some light on the U.S. divorce rate, and what has really been going on over the past few decades. It was thought that the divorce rate was decreasing since the 1970s, but the new study paints a very different picture. According to the new research, "the age-standardized refined divorce rate increased substantially after 1990 and is now at an all-time high."

It's a startling revelation in some ways, but in others it may not mean too much. Divorce is actually a simple "device," if you want to think about it in those terms. It allows people who are married but realize that their marriage is no longer tenable to solve their problem.

That is the crux of the matter: divorce is a solution to a problem, not a problem that is in need of solving. People who are unhappy in their marriages and recognize that it is time to change are going to file for divorce regardless of the divorce rate. There will never be a magical number that the divorce rate needs to hit for people to stop divorcing. That world will never exist.

So in the real world where divorce happens all the time and it shouldn't be considered a problem, it is best for unhappy couples to consult an experienced family law attorney to help them get organized and prepared for their split. In some ways, this is more important for fathers who could be confronted with some complex child custody matters in their divorce.

Source: Huffington Post, "Is the US Divorce Rate Going Up Rather Than Going Down?," Robert Hughes Jr., March 6, 2014


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Hiding assets during divorce? Prepare for a tax audit

Hiding assets during divorce? Prepare for a tax audit

Going through the divorce process can be a stressful experience. After all, couples are put in a position to split up nearly every aspect of the years they spent together. For some couples, addressing the financial aspects of divorce can become particularly contentious, since both parties want to maintain a sense of financial security after divorce.

From time to time, one spouse might be inclined to conceal marital assets during divorce in order to avoid splitting them. In addition to the possibility of a contested divorce settlement, this can also open the door to a tax audit conducted by the Internal Revenue Service.

Every year, people indicate their marital status on income tax filings to federal (and Georgia) officials. Because some people choose to hide assets during divorce, this could be viewed as a signal to initiate an audit. Even if both spouses have been transparent about their assets, and don't have to worry about tax violations, an audit is still an intimidating experience.

One other thing to keep in mind: Hidden assets might automatically be reported to the IRS. According to a report from Forbes, judges are legally bound to notify officials about potential inconsistencies in asset reporting found during divorce.

This may be of particular concern in divorces that involve a significant amount of assets. Transferring a large amount of funds, which is likely to happen in a high-asset divorce case, might be of particular interest for investigators looking to find issues in tax filings.

Ultimately, it may be best to work through divorce in an amicable fashion. By aiming toward a fair settlement, both spouses expect a stable post-divorce financial situation. Not only that, but this could prevent a whole host of unwelcome legal issues from springing up.
Source: Forbes, "Divorce Causes Tax Audits," Cameron Keng, Feb. 10, 2014